Summer Journeys: Isabella Nascimento Silva Pinto ’25: The Value of Language

Isabella Nascimento Silva Pinto ’25 is used to people asking her about famous footballers like Ronaldinho or Neymar. After all, she is from Brazil, and grew up near Pelé’s hometown. During her summer service trip to Costa Rica, those questions took on greater meaning: they were common ground—a connection to the local children that transcended any language barrier.

Isabella spent two weeks last summer teaching English at a no-cost day care and after-school program serving low-income families on the outskirts of San José.

“The aim of our work was to support people from low-income backgrounds with English language learning,” Isabella explains. “This is a fundamental skill to master in Costa Rica, where a large percentage of the national economy comes from the tourism industry. It was especially important to me because it gave me the chance to support kids based on my long-standing belief that learning English is a great tool for socio-economic improvement and the democratization of international opportunities for children of developing countries.”

Isabella also has some personal experience as an English language learner.

“I started learning English when I was 11 years old. Then, I felt embarrassed about the fact that I couldn’t understand the importance of the verb ‘to be’ and that I had pronounced ‘know’ as ‘qui-nou’ for many months before my teacher corrected me,” Isabella recalls. “However, around five years later, I got a Davis Scholarship to study at The Taft School as an international student. It made me realize that the mere ability to speak English can quite literally change the lives of youth from underprivileged backgrounds by opening doors and providing them with opportunities. I know the indescribable value it holds not only for personal development but also for the ideal of economic and social empowerment of newer generations.”

Isabella and her fellow volunteers received comprehensive training before starting their classroom work in Costa Rica. Having previously volunteered as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in the largest youth-led educational NGO in Brazil, Guardiões da Educação, Isabella already felt well-prepared.

“I already had a great understanding of in-classroom methodologies and planning,” Isabella says. “In Costa Rica, I was embodying the Taft School motto of Non ut sibi by helping Latin American youth who found themselves in a similar position I was in five years ago, learning the English language in hopes of having access to more opportunities and unlocking previously sealed doors.”

Isabella taught three classes each morning, and after lunch and a walk around the community, taught three classes each afternoon. After planning sessions, a one-hour trip back to her home base, and dinner, Isabella would walk to a local university to teach a small group of older students.

“Besides the child development program, we also volunteered teaching a group of adults and elders through a university partnership with our organization. Twice each week, we taught a group of four young mothers who were also economically and socially supported by the child development organization. We created all the lessons and made adjustments to our methodology to better fit the intermediate English level of the older students,” Isabella explains.

On the weekends, Isabella volunteered at a national reserve, “Parque La Libertad.” Located in a low-income area outside of San José, Parque La Libertad, is a public initiative designed to bring arts and culture into the community by offering a youth orchestra, and classes in fine arts, taekwondo, dance, and more. Isabella and her peers helped the grounds crew maintain the space and take care for the communal garden.

And while it may sound like a tremendous commitment and challenging work, for Isabella, volunteering to teach English—and taking on all that encompasses—seemed quite natural, and truly meaningful.

“My experience was very important to my own understanding of what being Latin American means,” Isabella explains. “I realized how unique and yet similar Latin American cultures truly are and how important it is to foster cultural exchanges between those communities. From my experience, Brazilians sometimes feel disconnected from their Latin American heritage because of the linguistic difference between our country and Hispanic nations. It felt incredible to be immersed in another Latin American culture and realize the parallel nature of our experiences. I felt proud rocking my Portunhol – the Brazilian custom of speaking Portuguese with a Spanish accent and calling it being bilingual—while I actually learned a whole lot of Spanish and Latina culture throughout that process.”

Isabella’s travel was made possible in part by a Robert Keyes Poole ’50 Fellowship.

Established in memory of Robert Keyes Poole ’50, Taft teacher from 1956 to 1962, Poole Fellowships are awarded each year to enable Taft students to engage in travel or in projects consistent with Mr. Poole’s lifetime interest in wildlife and the environment.